My good friend Reed Finlay sent me this prose from a cycling adventure he had a few weeks ago. With the snow finally starting to show up in the mountains, looks like road biking might be a good way to prep for the upcoming ski season.
About three weeks ago I was able to complete one of my most memorable cycling trips to date… “Round the Rock”. This is basically a ride around the Teton massif in one day, 150 miles total…45 of which are unpaved. I was really excited to complete it because I trained a lot this summer. I tried it last year and failed, making many navigating mistakes and enduring several flat tire-changes in thick mosquito country.
My bike of choice was a lightweight Bianchi Vigorelli, instead of my mountain bike, since the majority of the ride was on pavement. I did put heavier duty tires on in anticipation of the sharp gravel that I would encounter. I broke the ride up in to three legs: 1.Wilson to Flagg Ranch, 2.Flagg to Lamont, ID., 3.Lamont to Wilson.
I left my station wagon at the Stilson parking lot in Wilson at 7:45 a.m. and headed north on the smooth pathway, observing the hot air balloons rising over Teton Village. Along the way, I passed a few older couples on bikes, a bunch of stroller/runner/ mom combos, and the occasional runner. At the Poker Flats entrance station to Grand Teton National Park, I said goodbye to the user-friendly pavement and proceeded onto the worst section of the whole trip, the mile-and-a-half Moose-Wilson Rd, riddled with rim-bending potholes and loose gravel. Good thing there were no moose/bear/deer who-knows-what-they’re-stopping-for traffic jams!
The next part was uneventful, my only mantra being to just keep on pedaling. I had my picture taken at the Windy Point turnout by a Canadian couple drying the dew off their gear and admiring the view, one that I almost take for granted sometimes. This time I looked at it a little differently, hoping to be behind those peaks later in the day.
One funny episode on this leg was stopping at a roadside table set up by a Pathways group soliciting info on pathways in the national park. Since I had passed the first one and had used some nice pathways earlier, I felt obligated to participate. The young girl who did the questioning was very friendly and nice, but I was more interested in the time it was taking to fill out the questionnaire. I told her what I was up to and that mine was not a typical cycling odyssey and she gave me some sports drinks and Clif bars and sent me on my way.
Now I knew I really had to pick it up. Approaching the last bit of uphill into the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Parkway, I got stung by a yellow-jacket right in the ear. This really upset me and got the adrenaline pumping for the last bit up the hill before the long downhill to Flagg Ranch.
I stocked up on water at the lodge, three liters to get me the next 50 miles or so until the convenience store in Driggs, ID. When I went to park my bike I noticed two bikes leaning against the wall stacked to the gills with full panniers, sleeping bags, massive headlamps, etc. At first I thought they might be mopeds they were so colossal next to my mosquito of a ride. I went to use the bathroom and sure enough ran in to the riders. It wasn’t hard to spot them with all of their red and white riding gear, not to mention they didn’t look like the typical Flagg Ranch fare (think tour buses and leather-clad bikers…the other kind of bikers!). They were a young married couple from Austria who quit their jobs as nurses and decided it was the perfect time for a little ride from Alaska to Argentina while they were still young and in the early throes of marriage—nice job! I told them about my “dinky” little ride—learning of their itinerary gave me the same feeling I had when I took the captain of the USS Wyoming, a nuclear-powered submarine, and his family down the Snake River in my little 19 ft. inflatable raft. I told them they were welcome to stay at my place in Jackson and sure enough they were on my front stoop the next evening. Markus and Heidi were affable and entertaining guests. (You can check their progress at www.2roadrunners-on-tour.at. Go to the section marked “fotos”– It helps if you speak German!)
The next 45 miles were a little tricky and I knew they would be the hardest mentally. I was also a little concerned about bears, especially when I found out a few days earlier that one of the “problem” black bears from Jackson had been released at Grassy Lake to be with his buds and away from the coaxing aromas of Westbank birdseed and easily-accessible garbage. This part of the ride was mainly about keeping good balance and focusing on pushing on. A lot of it was in the forest so there weren’t many views but there were some really pretty meadows… especially Jackass Meadows.
Then came the scariest part of the ride. I was passing a campground near Boone Creek. and saw a fifth-wheel camper in the trees. As I went by I saw a family who looked like they had just arrived unloading the truck. Before I could even wave hello, a pack of Teton terriers and one R.O.U.S (think Princess Bride) took off up the gravel road at me. It was the last thing I expected to see on this most wild stretch of the ride…DOGS!! The kids kept calling for the dogs and one by one they peeled off back to camp, all except one…the R.O.U.S.! I thought I had dusted them all, but this little speck of a dog kept chasing me and nipping at my heels. I didn’t want to stop and confront him, so I kept pedaling faster. He chased me for maybe a third of a mile before he gave up. The upside to this distraction was another much-needed shot of adrenaline to get me to Conant Creek.
Conant was a mental milestone and was one of the areas that confused me last summer. I was a little confused and not sure if it would be suitable for my road bike. Of course the best way to determine that is to drive the route and that’s what I did the day before this year’s ride. I crossed a bridge and a short while later got to the three-way intersection that led to Lamont and out to highway 32.
It was nice to pick up the pace again on smooth pavement. It was approaching 6pm and I still had 40 miles to ride…not to mention Teton Pass. I made good time and reached the convenience store north of Driggs for some water and a rest. It was fun riding the Driggs to Victor bike-path and watching the sunset over the Big Holes in an amber-fused smoky haze.
I continued to the Mike Harris turnoff where I geared up for the final phase of nighttime riding: blinking headlamp, reflectored jacket, etc. This part of the ride was surprisingly pleasant and not as chaotic as one would imagine. It was Saturday night, so the Idaho 500 was not in progress and the moon was still dominant to the SE. Teton Pass has been freshly paved in the last two years and thank goodness the shoulder is a lot better than it used to be. Thanks WYDOT!
I arrived at the top at 9:45 p.m. and called a friend to tell him to meet me at the Calico Restaurant with pizza and beer. I returned to the station wagon at 10 p.m. and was exhilarated to say the least. This was a goal I worked towards a lot this summer and thought of frequently during the winter. It’s one of those adventures many of us out here are lucky to be able to have and savor for many years.